My friend Loretta and I were recently discussing a movie we’d just seen. Struggling to find a way to describe and explain the main character’s gloomy revolving door of unsuitable lovers and why Isabelle was unable to find herself a lasting, fulfilling relationship, Loretta shrugged her shoulders and raised her palms to the ceiling: “I guess it’s a case of GIGO. …“Garbage in, garbage out.”
The result of Isabelle’s “love equation” was only ever going to be as good as the data fed into her dating algorithm — i.e. the male components, and herself.
Why haven’t I ever heard that fabulous expression before? And why isn’t GIGO “a thing”? According to the Farley Dictionary of Idioms, here’s how “garbage in, garbage out” translates: “Having inferior or incorrect materials, information, instructions, etc., at the beginning of a process will yield inferior or incorrect results. Said especially of computer systems.”
The expression’s first known citation (in print) is a 1957 newspaper article about US Army mathematicians and their work with early computers, with Army Specialist William D. Mellin explaining that computers can’t think for themselves and that “sloppily programmed” inputs inevitably lead to incorrect outputs.
Apparently there’s a modem twist on the acronym GIGO: “garbage in, gospel out.” Doesn’t this seem like a great metaphor for the 21st century, in the time of Trump and Brexit? It’s also a very satisfying acronym.